Training a Deerhound 

This is an excerpt from the booklet we have written, which we give with our new puppies.

Introduction.  Generally, there are two kinds of training: house-training and general or obedience training. Our focus here is on house-training.  We are not a good resource for obedience training, even though we have managed to earn a novice obedience leg on one of our hounds!

House-Training.  Deerhounds tend to be clean. At two weeks, our puppies routinely go to one corner of the whelping box to pee—a corner covered only in newspaper, where their mother never laid down to nurse them. Not that they never did their business elsewhere, but they showed a strong preference for that corner. We will tell you how we have trained our Deerhounds; we recommend our methods, but you have to do what you are comfortable with. 

We have two crates for the puppy, one in our bedroom, and one in the kitchen/family room. We use adult-sized wire crates, because we travel with our dogs a lot, and find them useful. We could probably get by with just one, and move it as necessary, but we have plenty of crates, since our adults don't use them at home, and it is a long way from our bedroom to the kitchen.

We feed the puppy in the kitchen crate. There are a lot of reasons for this:

  • So that the puppy associates the crate with something good
  • So that the puppy can easily be trained to go into the crate
  • To keep the puppy out of the adults’ food, and vice versa
  • So that we can make sure that the puppy goes directly from his bowl to outside, even if the phone rings or some other distraction arises 

As soon as the puppy finishes eating, we let the puppy out of the crate and take him or her outside. Puppy digestive systems are amazing. They start swallowing, and it seems to kick-start the whole works, and within minutes, something comes out the other end. Puppies can poop six or eight times a day, easy! When the pup goes out, for at least the first couple of weeks, we go out too, even if it’s just to the fenced yard. And when the pup performs, we are lavish with the praise, as if s/he has just produced a Michelangelo. When s/he has an accident inside, we have found that if we express sorrow and disappointment (but not anger—s/he doesn’t know it’s wrong yet), it doesn’t take long. Outside = ecstasy. Inside = disappointed. I do it outside. We do try, as much as is practical, to get the pup outside immediately after meals and on awakening from a nap. One soon becomes sensitized to the signs of a puppy who wants to go! 

At night, we put the puppy in the bedroom crate. Again, we try to be alert to whining or restlessness, which probably indicates a need to visit the facilities. Early on, we often carry the pup outside, since it is a long way from our bedroom to the back door. Later on, we have a leash handy, and make a mad dash for the outdoors. If you have visited Cu Liath, you can imagine the mad dash! After a couple of nights, with maybe an accident in the crate, we find that the puppy can sleep through the night without needing to go out. 

After a week of peaceful nights, it is time to make the big change. One night, we bring the pup onto the bed at bedtime and insist that s/he settle down. It helps if we got the pup pretty tired that day, and perhaps are going to bed a little later than usual. As long as s/he stays quiet on the bed, we let him or her stay. When s/he decides to explore (or pester us), back to the crate. After we have them settled on the bed, we “wean” them to the floor beside the bed, and then to a more remote corner of the bedroom. Within a month or so, the pup is sleeping loose in the bedroom (with the door shut, or a baby gate across it). 

Leash-Training.  I never really thought about leash-training Deerhounds until I realized how many experienced dog people get into trouble trying to get their Deerhounds to walk nicely on a leash.   With many dogs, leash-training is mostly a matter of snapping a leash onto the collar and getting past a moment or two of resistance on the part of the dog.  With a small dog, even a bit of resistance (or pulling, which is really just resistance in a different direction) isn't a real problem, and with many dogs, it may be necessary to keep them close on a short lead.

With a Deerhound, on the other hand, it is important to recognize that the cute puppy on the end of the leash today will be a substantial adult in just a few months, easily able to pull even a large and capable owner off his feet.  For that reason, I generally approach leash-training with a Deerhound similarly to the way I approach halter-training with a horse: get his cooperation, and don't create opportunities for failure.

At home, our dogs do not wear collars (too many opportunities to chew them or get them caught), so when the time comes to leash-train a puppy (usually when they are about ten or twelve weeks old), we start by putting a collar on the puppy, inside, and letting him run around for a minute or two, just so that he can be sure that the collar doesn't really prevent him from walking.  Then I put on a light-weight leash (I often use a show collar and lead just because they are very light), hold on to the very end, and follow the pup around.  As much as possible, I avoid putting any pressure at all on the lead.  After a minute or two, I try calling the pup to come to me.  (This is something the pup should be doing off lead already, say, to get a treat.)  When the pup comes to me, I praise him, rub him, and may give him a treat of some sort.  I do not reel the puppy in on the leash!  If the puppy doesn't come to me, I go to him and get his attention from right beside him, touching him, if need be.  Generally, after five or so minutes, the pup is coming to me pretty easily.  Now I try to get the pup to come with me as I am walking, constantly talking to the pup and encouraging him to come along.  With most pups, this is pretty trivial.  Note that I still have not used the leash in any way.  When the pup wanders off, I follow.  But, when I feel that the pup is coming with me reasonably well (this is generally no more than five or ten minutes after putting on the leash), the next time the pup wanders off when I am talking to him, I allow the leash to tighten momentarily--that means just for a second or two--before I loosen it and call again.  Note that, in order to accomplish this I can't let the pup get all the way to the end of the leash!  I may have to tighten and loosen the leash several times (and may have to take a few steps toward the pup to accomplish this) before the pup once again comes to me.

 And that is pretty much it.  I find that, at this point, the vast majority of Deerhounds have grasped the notion that, once the lead is attached, they are to stay with me, on a loose lead.  A tight lead means they are going in the wrong direction, and need to return to me.  Of course, in order for this message to stick, I have to be consistent.  I can't just stand around holding the dog on a tight lead, thinking that this is the only way to keep the dog very close (say, at a dog show, or elsewhere in tight quarters).  I have taught the dog that he must stay within range of the leash.  If I have a six-foot lead, and I am just holding on to the end, then the dog is free to wander in that radius.  If I shorten up and only have two feet of leash between my hand and the dog's collar, then he must stay in that much smaller radius.  If he gets to the boundary--that is, tightens his leash by pulling--then I give a little tug, and loosen the leash, and my dog returns to my side, paying attention to me.

In the end, the leash is not the primary means of controlling the dog.  It is back-up.  The primary means of controlling the dog is training, and the relationship between the handler and the dog.

Other Commands.  At some point in all of this, without really intending to, we manage to teach our dogs the command “Go lie down.” This means go (to your cushion or another comfortable spot) and lie down and stay there for a while. It is useful when the pup insists on being underfoot when you are getting a turkey out of the oven, among other times. And, for us, go lie down, kennel up (used for going into crates, but also for getting into the car, or other confined space where I am not joining them), and last outs (you must go outside now) are the only required commands. Our dogs also know a collection of other commands: Name only or no Name (which controls which dog goes or doesn’t go through an open door or gate), bedtime for Deeries (which not only sends the dogs to the bedroom, but also warns the cats to get out of the way), and alright (a general preparatory command; everybody up). All of these happened accidentally—especially alright, which came about because I often say, “Alright, last outs” or “Alright, bedtime for Deeries” so that the dogs came to recognize that alright meant that something was going to happen. So one day I said “Alright, let’s go finish that file” to Charlie, and all the dogs jumped up!